The Benefits of Messy Sensory Play

Categories: OT Perspective | Sensory

As an OT, messy sensory play activities are some of my favorite to incorporate with my students! They can be a pain to clean up after, but the benefits outweigh the extra cleaning time for me. Now, before I go further with this post, I want to acknowledge that messy sensory play isn’t something that everyone enjoys, and that is ok!   Check out this blog post for ideas on ways to support students who are more sensitive to tactile input.  If messy play is something that is appropriate for your students and you are able to incorporate into your classroom, I encourage you to try!  Today, let’s talk about some of the many benefits of messy play as you consider how to set up some of these opportunities for your students.

Messy play encourages creativity.

Many messy play activities are open-ended, which is a perfect opportunity for students to be creative.  For example, when playing with shaving cream, students might draw in it, cover their hands like they are putting on lotion, or drive trucks/cars through it.  The possibilities are endless!

Messy play enhances sensory development. 

Messy play offers many opportunities to activate the tactile system.  The earlier and more consistently you can expose students to messy experiences, the better!  Check out this blog post for more information on the tactile system.  Additionally, some messy play opportunities can involve the proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems, which are also key for regulation.

Messy play encourages fine motor skill development.

It can be easy to incorporate fine motor skill development into messy play activities.  Actions such as squeezing, scooping, pouring and digging all develop the tiny muscles in the hands that are so important for many life skills.

Messy play encourages self advocacy and problem solving skills.

I am a huge believer in helping students develop advocacy and problem solving skills from a young age.  Messy play offers a fun way to work on these skills.  Because students may have varied responses to these activities, it can be a great time to practice advocacy skills.  During messy play activities, students can practice communicating feelings (I don’t like this!) and needs (I need a break or help!) independently and appropriately.  Additionally, the setup and cleanup process offers a chance for students to problem solve and sequence how to approach those tasks.

Messy play can be engaging and fun.

This is not true for everyone, but I have found the majority of my students love any opportunity to engage in messy play.  I was recently struggling with student engagement during my 1:1 and group sessions.  I decided to bring out all the sensory activities, including shaving cream, sensory bags made with hair gel, and kinetic sand.  Guess what?  Students were motivated and engaged, and I was able to work on therapy goals within the context of the messy activities.  It was a win-win for everyone!

What are some of your favorite messy sensory activities?  Happy playing!


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